Saturday, March 17, 2012

I am an Electronaut!

You can describe us as the typical american suburbian family. The one thing that would be missing from the line up would be the dog! But we do have the requisite two cars - one for me and one for the missus. The missus of course has to manage the kids, ferry them from one class to another and to take them to play dates carrying all the myriad stuff the kids seem to need to survive each day. So she has what is popularly known as the soccer mom car - the family van. The kids seem to love the van as well because of the entertainment system and insist on going in the van whenever we have go on a long ride.

And then there is the car that I commute in. Bought before the van, the decision for this car was more to appeal to the typical male driver in me. A 6 cylinder, 3500CC Engine, 270 horse power beauty that would give me 18 miles to a gallon of gas and would take nothing less than the super premium variety. While I would always prefer to going in this car, often that happens when I travel without my family. Rest of the time it gets used for my office commute, a commute of less than five miles that makes all my friends very jealous.

Often I felt guilty to be using such a big car for this purpose and the mileage of the car and the rising gas prices did not help me forget this. So I had started to think of downsizing the car to something that is more suited for the kind of use that I have and going the hybrid way was very appealing too. That would give a much better mileage than the cars that run solely on gasoline. While doing some research on the hybrids, I came across the next generation of these cars - the all electric ones.

There were two cars that caught my attention - Leaf from Nissan and Active E from BMW. Both companies were planning field tests of these new cars. There were lot of similarities in the kind of features they offered. If I need to describe these cars in general- These are small cars that have a limited range before they need to be charged again, need a specialized charger installed at home, are first generation cars running on nascent technology and hence might have teething problems, would cost more than the regular cars.

But when the needs are what I have these electric cars seemed to make sense. I was looking for a second car, that is going to be primarily used for my short office commute and did not need a long range or a huge size. The lower operating costs are an added bonus. And more than anything else, the new technology appealed to the early adopter in me. I was sold on getting an electric car.

Nissan did not choose New Jersey as part of their test markets but BMW did have the Tri State area in their map. But they planned to manufacture just 700 cars for the entire country and there was a multi stage recruitment process for choosing the people who would be leased these vehicles. I applied rather instinctively and was surprised when I made into each round of the recruitment process. Earlier this month, I received an email from BMW that I have been allotted one of these cars. Missus and I went for a test ride and it was a good experience driving the car.

This week I took delivery of this car and to make a cliched statement - it was love at first sight. An all electric engine that makes no noise at all and delivers the kind of performance you would expect out of an ultimate driving machine. Yes, the range is limited to 100 miles but that is sufficient for the daily commute, local trips to the stores and even a trip to NYC and back. Anything more we would take the van.

Charging can be done either by using the special 220V charger (takes about 5 hours for a full charge) or through an additional charger that can just plug into a normal 110V charger (takes 24 hours for a full charge but is good enough for top ups). This week I have been running solely on the 110V charger as my 220V charger is yet to be installed. I was originally supposed to pay for this charger and the installation but figured out that there was one company which gives the charger for free and collects money just for the installation. They had some federal government grant which enables them give the free charger and save me over $1000 in the process. Thank you Obama! In California, the state even reimburses the installation charges apparently. Hey Christie, are you listening?

Buying a car in the US is not a pleasant exercise. There is rounds and rounds of negotiation with multiple dealers and end of the day you are still left with a feeling that you have paid more than others. But this time around, there was nothing to negotiate and everything was known upfront when I signed up for the program. This being a field trial version, I was spared of making any decisions at all. For example BMW did a ford on the color front and said you can have any color you want as long as it is white! And all add on gadgets were part of the factory shipped version. No negotiations, no difficult choices. Felt wonderful!

The car is filled with new technology and I am still figuring out all that this car has got to offer. BMW has come up with an iPhone app, that allows you to schedule the charging, lock the car remotely and has a very involved integration with google maps. There is also a facility to schedule what is called as preconditioning where you can set the temperature inside the car remotely so that when you get in the car it is set to your preference. Imagine life, when you get into a car that is warm and toasty in winter! (of course, there needs to be a winter unlike what we are having this year!)

Have done just over 100 miles in the last three days and enjoyed every moment of it! And completed the 100 mile mark, just after Sachin reached his 100th international hundred! :)

My TN friends, already tired of the unending power cuts, please don't get mad at me for this post and my NJ friends, if you happen to see a white BMW with the circuit board kind of etchings in front of you, honk! It would most probably be me!!

Stay tuned for more updates.